Elon Musk's reading recommendations are quite different. Where Gates's tastes tend towards the whimsical and Jobs's towards the metaphysical, Musk's list is all about science.
Only one of his recommendations is a traditional business book, with the rest dealing either with the history of science or the relationship of science to public policy:
1. Benjamin Franklin
Subtitle: An American Life
Author: Walter Isaacson
Why It's Inspiring: Musk was born in South Africa but was always drawn to the United States, where he took multiple degrees, founded his businesses, and gained citizenship at the age of 41. Musk probably sees Franklin as the type of American he himself would like to be and become: a combination of statesman, inventor, and businessman.
Best Quote: "His morality was built on a sincere belief in leading a virtuous life, serving the country he loved, and hoping to achieve salvation through good works. That led him to make the link between private virtue and civic virtue, and to suspect, based on the meager evidence he could muster about God's will, that these earthly virtues were linked to heavenly ones as well. As he put it in the motto for the library he founded, 'To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.' In comparison to contemporaries such as Jonathan Edwards, who believed that men were sinners in the hands of an angry God and that salvation could come through grace alone, this outlook might seem somewhat complacent. In some ways it was, but it was also genuine."
2. Catherine the Great
Subtitle: Portrait of a Woman
Author: Robert K. Massie
Why It's Inspiring: Musk is surrounded by intelligent, creative, beautiful women. His sister is a well-known film director and producer, his first wife an accomplished novelist, and his second wife (with whom he's had an off-and-on relationship) a successful actress who studies physics and the natural sciences. It's not hard to see how Musk might be drawn to an historical figure who in many ways resembles the women in his life.
Best Quote: "She was discovering the way to make people like her, and once she had learned the skill, she practiced it brilliantly. It was not a matter of behaving seductively. Sophia--and, later, Catharine--was never a coquette; it was not sexual interest she wished to arouse but warm, sympathetic understanding. To produce these reactions in other people, she used means so conventional and modest that they appear almost sublime. She realized that people preferred to talk rather than to listen and to talk about themselves rather than anything else."
Subtitle: His Life and Universe
Author: Walter Isaacson
Why It's Inspiring: Musk's first college degree was a BS in physics, and his three companies--SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity--all depend upon a deep and ongoing understanding of physics and chemistry. Einstein essentially created our modern understanding of the world, so it's only logical that Musk would be interested in the man's life and work.
Best Quote: "An appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry. What science teaches us, very significantly, is the correlation between factual evidence and general theories, something well illustrated in Einstein's life. In addition, an appreciation for the glories of science is a joyful trait for a good society. It helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for wonder, about such ordinary things as falling apples and elevators, that characterizes Einstein."
4. Howard Hughes
Subtitle: His Life and Madness
Authors: Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Why It's Inspiring: Hughes led a very sad and lonely life. Despite his brilliance as an inventor and businessman, Hughes never achieved the level of technological success that he sought. Today, he's remembered more for his greatest failure (the Spruce Goose) than for his successes. I strongly suspect that Tesla sees Howard Hughes as a role model for what to avoid rather than emulate.
Best Quote: "While Hughes's mind was adept at absorbing complicated technical material, there was no place in it for human beings. He could remember years afterward, to the quarter-inch, the angle of the windshield in a plane he helped to design, but had entirely lost the name of the engineer who worked side by side with him for many months. From childhood on, he was never one of the boys, never able to share a joke or enjoy the camaraderie of youth or the friendship of adults. He never sought--and did not seem to need--human companionship."
Subtitle: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants
Author: John D. Clark
Why It's Inspiring: This insider's account of the early years of rocketry captures the excitement of researching and developing technologies that lie outside the realm of computer science. While we're accustomed to think of technological progress in terms of Moore's law, in a few short years these engineers went from launching metal tubes small enough to hold in your hand to propelling a two ton metal capsule containing three humans all the way to the moon. With his SpaceX venture, Musk clearly sees himself as carrying on this tradition. Note: This out-of-print book was originally printed on-demand and is now exceedingly rare. There is, however, a PDF version available online.
Best Quote: "We were in a new and exciting field, possibilities were unlimited, and the world was our oyster just waiting to be opened. We knew that we didn't have the answers to the problems in front of us, but we were sublimely confident of our ability to find them in a hurry, and set about the search with a 'gusto'--the only word for it--that I have never seen before or since."
6. Merchants of Doubt
Subtitle: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Authors: Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Why It's Inspiring: Musk clearly believes that science should play a central role in the setting of government policy. This book explains how a handful of corporate-funded scientists have consistently made money by sowing doubt in the public's mind about the validity of real scientific research.
Best Quote: "In case after case, Fred Singer, Fred Seitz, and a handful of other scientists joined forces with think tanks and private corporations to challenge scientific evidence on a host of contemporary issues. In the early years, much of the money for this effort came from the tobacco industry; in later years, it came from foundations, think tanks, and the fossil fuel industry. They claimed the link between smoking and cancer remained unproven. They insisted that scientists were mistaken about the risks and limitations of SDI. They argued that acid rain was caused by volcanoes, and so was the ozone hole. They charged that the Environmental Protection Agency had rigged the science surrounding secondhand smoke. Most recently--over the course of nearly two decades and against the face of mounting evidence--they dismissed the reality of global warming."
Subtitle: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down
Author: J. E. Gordon
Why It's Inspiring: As a physicist himself, Musk likely appreciates this book for explaining some of the fundamental physical behavior of so many elements of the real world in such a clear and amusing manner.
Best Quote: "Structures are involved in our lives in so many ways that we cannot really afford to ignore them: after all, every plant and animal and nearly all the works of man have to sustain greater or less mechanical forces without breaking, and so practically everything is a structure of one kind or another. When we talk about structures, we shall have to ask, not only why buildings and bridges fall down and why machinery and aeroplanes sometimes break, but also how worms came to the shape they are and why a bat can fly into a rosebush without tearing its wings. How do our tendons work? Why do we get 'lumbago'? How were pterodactyls able to weigh so little? Why do birds have feathers? How do our arteries work?... As it has turned out, the struggle to understand the real reasons why structures work and why things break has been a great deal more difficult and has taken much longer than one might have expected. It is really only quite recently that we have been able to fill in enough of the gaps in our knowledge to answer some of these questions in any very useful or intelligent manner."
Subtitle: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Author: Nick Bostrom
Why It's Inspiring: Musk has called artificial intelligence "the most serious threat to the survival of the human race." Some of his thinking appears to be based upon themes developed in this book, which is, however, considerably less alarmist.
Best Quote: "Machines matching humans in general intelligence--that is, possessing common sense and an effective ability to learn, reason, and plan to meet complex information-processing challenges across a wide range of natural and abstract domains--have been expected since the invention of computers in the 1940s. At that time, the advent of such machines was often placed some 20 years into the future. Since then, the expected arrival date has been receding at a rate of one year per year; so that today, futurists who concern themselves with the possibility of artificial intelligence still often believe that intelligent machines are a couple of decades away."
9. Zero to One
Subtitle: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Author: Peter Thiel
Why It's Inspiring: Considering Musk's own success at building innovative businesses, it's not surprising that he respects a former colleague who has been wildly successful investing in them.
Best Quote: "New technology tends to come from new ventures--startups. From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor's 'traitorous eight' in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better. The easiest explanation for this is negative: It's hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it's even harder to do it by yourself. Bureaucratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk. In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this described your company, you should quit now). At the other extreme, a lone genius might create a classic work of art or literature, but he could never create an entire industry. Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can."